His fi­nal col­umn

Pro­fes­sor Philip’s do-it-your­self brain fix

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - MEMORIAL -

When the medi­cos tell you, “There is no cure,” no mat­ter what your per­sonal sit­u­a­tion, some back quad­rant of your brain prob­a­bly re­sponds, “But there will be.” What­ever the depre­da­tions of the busi­ness end of medicine (and Is­raelis should give thanks daily they’re not Krank in Amerika), our faith in the in­evitable progress of medicine re­mains strong. So many mir­a­cles yet to come.

But when the medi­cos tell you, “We don’t know where to start,” and they’re talk­ing about a con­di­tion that has be­dev­iled you for decades, an­other set of per­cep­tions kicks in. And some­times you be­come, in your own non-med­i­cal/un­sci­en­tific way... pro-ac­tive.

I’ve writ­ten about this mat­ter in this space be­fore. This month, I of­fer a pré­cis, a tale of frus­tra­tion and an al­ter­na­tive of sorts that I’ve found, based upon an undis­puted sci­en­tific fact:

The neu­rons that play to­gether, stay to­gether. In March 2017, I got bored with my mul­ti­ple-re­lapse chronic lym­pho­cytic leukemia and de­cided to have a small stroke. When the doc­tor showed me the CT scan of my brain, he com­mented, “You know, you’ve al­ready had one stroke.”

“News to me. When?”

“Can’t say. But it’s old.”

A cou­ple months later, we went over the MRI. Sev­eral prior strokes and a TBI (trau­matic brain in­jury), plus some other stuff, none of which I’d known any­thing about.

This got me think­ing about my past, and what the ef­fects might have been. In­evitably, I was led to a ques­tion. What might have been the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween this brain dam­age and pre-ex­ist­ing thought and be­hav­ior pat­terns? Since the ques­tion was not of present clin­i­cal con­cern, Clalit was hardly go­ing to pay for ex­pen­sive brain scans and other di­ag­nos­tics. But as I pieced to­gether al­ter­na­tive time lines of my life, and as­sessed the pos­si­bil­ity that the brain dam­age might have con­trib­uted to a rough cou­ple decades, the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween dam­age and per­son­al­ity be­came, if not cer­tain, then cer­tainly pos­si­ble, even plau­si­ble.

I de­cided to in­ves­ti­gate the data. I found vir­tu­ally noth­ing pub­licly avail­able. One rea­son for the lack was ob­vi­ous. “Vol­un­teers wanted for a study. Must have brain dam­age but not know it.” An­other rea­son was the demise of the ex­tended “talk­ing cure” in psy­chother­apy that might have opened some win­dows. Yet an­other ap­peared to be mas­sive in­dif­fer­ence among pas­toral coun­selors and var­i­ous sup­port groups. Sure, ev­ery­body knows about ma­jor strokes and brain dam­age, the kinds that leave you par­a­lyzed, mute, un­able to func­tion. But mi­nor dam­age that might, over, time, ex­ac­er­bate your OCD or de­pres­sion... who knows? You get a klopf on the kopf and two days later, you feel fine, that’s the end of it. But maybe not.

So what to do? The US govern­ment es­ti­mates that 10% of mid­dle-aged Amer­i­cans have had a “silent stroke” and mil­lions more are prob­a­bly walk­ing around with TBI, cap­il­lary bleed­ing, etc. What to do when con­ven­tional medicine rightly de­votes it­self to the se­ri­ous dam­age and lets the mi­nor (or maybe not so mi­nor) suf­fer­ers fend for them­selves?

One ob­vi­ous an­swer is in­creased pa­tient aware­ness of the pos­si­bil­i­ties. An­other might be a CT brain scan at the age-40 phys­i­cal that should be manda­tory for ev­ery­one. And yet an­other might be self-help: un­med­i­cal, un­sci­en­tific, but end­lessly in­ter­est­ing and oc­ca­sion­ally fun.

Wel­come to Pro­fes­sor Philip’s Do-It-Your­self Brain Fix.

It is true that the hu­man brain can re­ju­ve­nate, re­pair and re­wire through­out life, al­though th­ese abil­i­ties drop off mer­ci­lessly with age. Still, the In­ter­net is clut­tered with games pur­port­ing to “re­wire your brain” if you play them (Neu­rol­ogy notes that the only im­prove­ment seems to be skill in play­ing the game). But it got me to think­ing: Could you help your­self by in­dulging in what may be pure fan­tasy, imag­in­ing that your dam­aged func­tions might be “rewired” to other, un­dam­aged, brain sites? It hap­pens nat­u­rally. Can the process be, maybe, a lit­tle bit nudged along?

Pro­fes­sor Philip’s Do-It-Your­self has, to date, four parts:

• Mull Your Skull. What think you amiss?

• Plan A Head. What do you want?

• Brain Drain. Out go the bad thoughts...

• Site Unseen. The trans­fer of func­tion.

I’ve been play­ing with it for a cou­ple months. Re­sults to date: one lim­er­ick. I was ly­ing in bed, half-asleep, when I had the sen­sa­tion that I was watch­ing my brain write a lim­er­ick, a skill I’ve never mas­tered. In five min­utes, it was done. Then the muse or what­ever van­ished.

If you train your young hip­popota­mus

To sit straight up­right on his bot­tom-ous

The feat would be splen­did

Un­less he’s up­ended

For then his mood might turn on­i­mous.

I was in­trigued. Then I re­al­ized. Some peo­ple get di­vine rev­e­la­tions. Some get mes­sages from space aliens. Me? I get lim­er­icks about hip­popota­muses.

Ah, well. Sci­ence, no doubt, will some­day find a cure. If not for un­known brain dam­age, per­haps for lim­er­icks. – Philip Gold

Could you help your­self by in­dulging in what may be pure fan­tasy, imag­in­ing that your dam­aged func­tions might be ‘rewired’ to other, un­dam­aged, brain sites?


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